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Facility-D at the California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison at Corcoran, (CSATF/SP) is putting up surveillance cameras and will soon be requiring officers to wear body cameras in response to a court order. 

In March 2021, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California found systemic abuse against people with disabilities in five prisons belonging to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), which violated the Americans with Disabilities Act as well as court orders issued in a previous case. 

Claudia Wilken, the judge presiding in the case, filed by required the prisons to develop a plan within 21 days to end the violation and reform the staff complaint and disciplinary process in addition to installing the cameras. 

CSATF/SP was one of the five in addition to California State Prison at Los Angeles County (CSP-LAC), California State Prison-Corcoran (CSP-COR), Kern Valley State Prison (KVSP) and California Institution for Women (CIW). 

On Wednesday, June 16, we were placed on a modified program and the cameras were installed. 

Just a day earlier in the exercise yard of Facility-D, a prisoner in a wheelchair was being pushed by another prisoner when they were called to a halt by several officers. I was too far away to hear the context of their conversation. However, I could see that the veteran officer ordered this prisoner to get out of the wheelchair for a search. When the prisoner said no, the officers tried to dump him out of the wheelchair. When he resisted, the officers immediately went into take-down mode, piling on him and putting their knees into his back while they held down his head and legs for a couple of minutes. The first thought that I and other prisoners had was of George Floyd. I could hear the murmurs, the quiet debate, and the repressed anger.

After they handcuffed the prisoner, stood him up, placed him into the wheelchair, they carted him off. It was as though the officers were getting in their last shinjig before the cameras became a reality.

Given all the money and time spent on litigating incidents of excessive force claims brought by prisoners, you would think that surveillance cameras and officer body cameras would have already been a mainstay of CDCR. High Desert State Prison, which installed cameras some years back, for example, has seen a decline in excessive force claims and even prisoner on prisoner violence.

Although the wall-mounted and body cameras are to monitor the prisoners with disabilities, they will hopefully benefit all concerned, staff and prisoners alike. I wonder though whether they could still somehow adversely affect the prisoners?

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Artemus Blankenship is a writer of African, French, Italian and Indian heritage. He is incarcerated in California and serves as a representative in his facility's Inmate Advisory Council.